I always like when an author takes real historical figures and locations and fictionalizes them. Dan Simmons has written a very interesting tale as told by Wilkie Collins covering the last 5 years of Charles Dickens’s life.
The book unfold around a train accident at Staplehurst in which Charles Dickens is one of the few and remarkable survivors. He meets a man named Drood at the accident and starts a (remaining) life long obsession with him. This is recounted from Wilkie Collins’s perspective, an unreliable narrator, even using and writing in a style similar to Wilkie Collins.
The book is long – nearly 800 pages. And I “read” it as an audiobook. I think that was an excellent decision. I would have abandoned the book had I been reading it. It is not poorly written or a bad read; it is very long and has very well researched passages (more on that) and conversations that really go on and on. Since this is written as post-mortem account from Wilkie Collins (who mentions that enough times to make me mad), his recall of conversations is amazing for a opium and laudanum addict.
The research that Dan Simmons has put into this is impressive. Really impressive. And he is not afraid to let you know that. The accounting of addresses and who was attending play opening and the chronological ordering of releases and British verses American publishers. The list goes on. I can imagine his notes took over. And they took over the story at times. Things would feel side lined as conversations went into the level of detail that were head spinning. Part of that is the style the book is meant to follow, the sensational fiction of Wilkie Collins along with echos of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens last work that was never finished. But part of me feels like the book gets bogged down by it at times to. Again, I am glad I did this as an audiobook.
The ending of the book is interesting as it just happens – quickly – unlike anything else in the book. It is so anti-climatic, I feel like I missed something. But in truth I think it is meant to work in two ways. One, to parallel the unfinished and “up for grabs” endings that have form for “Edwin Drood” and that Wilkie Collins is writing the memoir at the end of his life, and there is a personal – if not delusional quality to him and his writing then.
Simon Prebble, the reader, has done one remarkable job. This maybe the best audiobook reading I have ever listened too. The only one that is in the same league is Michael York’s reading of The Final Solution. Prebble’s voice changes are not as dramatic as York’s but his pacing, his consistency (considering the massive length and breath) and his overall reading timbre are remarkable. I think this is one of the reasons I did find the book compelling and very interesting and could listen to these conversations that were very long. It was pleasurable to listen to him!
Overall, I think the historical run that Dan Simmons has been on shows this man’s amazing writing range. If you liked The Terror (which is touched on briefly) you should like this. If you are a fan of Simmons SF or Horror you may like this, you may not.